Getting a big bite of the Big Apple

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HARDLY off the plane to New York, I was whizzed around the $US12m state-of-the art recital hall at Adelphi University in Long Island by conductor, composer and former ANU School of Music lecturer, Christopher Lyndon Gee.

Then, at a wedding, I bumped into the Canberra operatic repetiteur Adam Laslett. Later, over coffee, I met four brilliant young ex-Canberrans making good in the arts, more of which in future weeks, including Tim Hansen.

Tim Hansen... a Canberra actor, cabaret artist and former tutor at Canberra Youth Theatre, in New York. Photo by Helen Musa
Tim Hansen… a Canberra actor, cabaret artist and former tutor at Canberra Youth Theatre, in New York. Photo by Helen Musa
I knew him as a Canberra actor, cabaret artist and tutor at Canberra Youth Theatre who’d studied composition with Jim Cotter and Larry Sitsky, then gone to do his masters in composition and theory at New York University.

Hansen will be back here soon to rehearse for a touring show with The Song Company.

While Manhattan is very much his kinda place, so was Canberra, “full of life and arts”.

Originally from Orange, he did an honours degree in theatre and media at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, then came here to study composition.

In Canberra, he has composed scores for Centrepiece Theatre’s “A Most Curious Dream” and ARTS Theatre Company’s “Telling Moments” and written a chamber opera based on Shaun Tan’s “Distant Rain”. He’s directed the Canberra Mandolin Ensemble and the jazz vocal group Rhythm Syndicate, as well as performing with Philo and in The Street Theatre’s cabaret, “Berlin”.

In New York, he’s relished his studies at NYU under mentors Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe (from the Bang on a Can Allstars ensemble) while wilting somewhat in the “education factory” milieu of a big, expensive institution.

It’s got him thinking. “At small universities in small places, you can get involved,” he says, sighing when he thinks about cutbacks at the ANU, which he had always thought would have been a great place to work.

At ANU he had been exposed to composition Sitsky-style.

“Larry’s idea was you write something, you talk about it, you test it out, you make it happen by being immersed in it,” he says.

Once he’d finished his masters, though, he found NYC more than simpatico. His cello quartet composition “Traveller” was performed at a summer festival, he taught with the Lucy Moses School and The New Group, he co-founded the W4 Music Collective and directed the Australian new music ensemble exhAust.

He’s performed, often as an accompanist and he’s been collaborating on a new cabaret, “Freddy Malaboca’s [Freddy Badmouth] Woodland Spectacular” and on a children’s show, taking him back to one of his first loves – “kids help you to stay natural, there’s no pretension”.

Now, about to turn homeward, Hansen is figuring out how to promote his own compositions.

First up is The Song Company commission, “Howls of the House”. It’s a 20-minute cantata by Hansen and Canberra poet Hal Judge, a satirical musical snapshot of life in the chambers of Parliament House, its corridors, estimates rooms and rest rooms, which they say is “a city within a city”. Just like Manhattan.

“Howls of the House” by Song Co & Co, at Llewellyn Hall, 4pm, Sunday, July 7. Bookings to (02) 8256 2222.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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